National Customer Service Week is the first full week of October — a designation we’ve celebrated every year since 1992. The week highlights the importance of customer service and the people who serve and support customers on a daily basis.
Customer service is a big deal in e-commerce, as 73 percent of customers reportedly view it as an important factor in their purchasing decisions.
In today’s competitive market, providing a flawless customer experience is integral to optimizing customer retention — particularly important with ever-lucrative subscription services.
Customer retention is the key to subscription profitability, according to Forrester. Renewals account for 62 percent of subscription revenue.
If online brands want to satisfy their shoppers and prevent churn, they must deliver a shopping experience that includes a friendly user interface, simple website searchability, minimized hassle during checkout, and an individualized customer experience across all touchpoints.
Buyers have grown accustomed to personalized shopping experiences and one-day and two-day shipping, which means expectations of sellers have amplified. Customers seek out brands they believe care about and understand their unique preferences. Quality products and services always will remain a critical component of a brand’s identity, but the way in which businesses deliver their goods and services holds just as much weight.
To deliver that experience, merchants need solutions that allow their businesses to be agile and responsive to customer demands. An e-commerce technology stack can help, with the right tools. For example, a legacy infrastructure can make it challenging to shift systems quickly to address customer desires. Customers want shopping journeys to feel personalized, unified and frictionless. If merchants are going to offer superior buying experiences, they must have the proper technology in place to make the buying process simple.
To accomplish this, a merchant’s best bet is to maintain a website powered by modular, best-of-breed solutions, which will provide the most flexibility to create those superior experiences while maintaining the brand voice shoppers sought out in the first place.
The Subscription Rush
Brands are embracing the subscription model now more than ever as a way to address customer needs and grow their business. The subscription economy has grown by more than 100 percent each year over the past five years according to McKinsey & Company.
From software to apparel, companies everywhere are shifting to the subscription model because it offers revenue predictability and increased customer engagement.
This subscription market trend can be described in three words: flexibility, convenience and value. Consumers want the flexibility and convenience of paying only for what they use, as they use it — with little or no upfront investment. Also, they want to extract more value out of the products they do buy.
The rise of subscription commerce is appealing for online brands that can pivot successfully and create new, recurring revenue streams, all while building and extending the relationships they have with their customers.
Some consumers don’t see the benefits of opting into a subscription, however. They simply view the model as a new way to purchase the same old products. The challenge for brands is to add new and continuous value to subscriptions, communicate that value, and show customers that subscriptions aren’t just a new way to buy — they’re a better way to buy. This is where the nuances of customer service can bring more potential customers to the brand.
1. Be Personal
The No. 1 way to add value to a subscription service is to cater to each customer’s interests. Subscriptions increase consumer touchpoints, providing companies with a wealth of valuable customer data that can be used to tailor offerings for individual customers.
Depending on the product or service, personalization can take many forms. For physical goods like subscription boxes, it may be a selection of products that align more closely with a customer’s preferences. For digital subscriptions, personalization may mean curated content or a personalized interface.
Regardless of how personalization manifests, it is an important tool to show customers that you understand their unique preferences, wants and needs. Showing customers that your brand recognizes and is working to fulfill their needs can be the basis of a strong customer-brand relationship.
2. Be Communicative
The kind of personalized and seamless shopping experiences consumers get from Amazon, and the other direct-to-consumer brands that have followed suit, are now table stakes. For subscriptions, demonstrating value to customers can be almost as important as creating that value to begin with. That’s why ongoing communications are so important for subscription providers.
Because the purchasing process is passive, subscriptions sometimes can go unnoticed, or consumers might forget they subscribed to a particular service. They can let payment information expire, leading to involuntary churn and service disruptions. The best way to combat this is through back-end processes that update card information automatically.
This can be through promotional messaging or non-transactional content. It’s become more commonplace to receive a subscription as a holiday or birthday gift. In these situations, consumers who did not initiate the service are more likely to drop their subscription. However, consistent and relevant communications can prevent that by helping to accentuate the value in the brand relationship, increasing the value of the subscription itself.
3. Ensure Convenient Payments
Payments hold a uniquely important place in the subscription model. Subscriptions are valuable to customers in part because the passive payment process makes purchasing easy and hassle-free. That convenience is predicated on payment processing systems functioning properly. Any failed transaction takes away the convenience of the model and can create an opportunity for subscriber churn that brands want to avoid.
It’s important to maintain the proper IT infrastructure to ensure all transactions are processed correctly. Many companies partner with e-commerce solutions providers because they understand that payment automation is part of what makes subscriptions valuable to customers.
Experienced e-commerce providers have many tools at hand to optimize payments, update information and reduce churn. Having the right IT systems in place can minimize disruptions in service and ultimately increase customer retention.
There is a return on investment for merchants when they take the initiative to put customer preferences first. For example, accepting a range of popular payment methods such as PayPal or other digital wallets means giving consumers options and not restricting their buying experience.
4. Add Continuous Value
A subscription itself will not entice a customer. The product or service has to have its own value proposition, but the subscription model creates multiple touchpoints that brands can use to sell additional products and services.
For example, brands may offer additional services at a discount available only to subscribers — or give subscribers exclusive access to new products. If additional services increase the usefulness of the product itself and make subscribers feel like important members of a club, the customer receives tremendous value and is more likely to continue engaging with that brand.
Brands can add value to subscriptions by personalizing offers, communicating with customers, ensuring system automation, and promoting relevant enhancements to consumers. By adding continuous value to subscription offerings, brands increase the likelihood of customer retention and improve revenue overall.
Who’s in Charge?
Customers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to what they want businesses to deliver. Convenience and flexibility are non-negotiable. Business leaders and their teams need to develop the customer journey shoppers demand if they want to maintain and grow profitable customer relationships.
Maintaining consistency across channels, ensuring quality support services, and incorporating new technologies to stay on trend with consumer habits are monumental tasks. Customer experience can’t be owned by any one person. In the same way that marketing and sales are most effective when they join forces, customer experience (CX) should be a collective effort.
Brands should think about CX as an extension of their company mantra. Every business division needs to understand the brand’s CX strategy and view its own operations as part of the bigger picture.
All consumer touchpoints should enhance the customer experience in some form. This is why CX doesn’t end with marketing. Brands should develop an end-to-end CX strategy that accounts for all areas of the business, not just those explicitly client-facing.
Intertwining Company and Customer Values
The best customer experience is a reflection of consumer values, not just company goals. Many brands develop an ideal e-commerce journey map to improve profitability, but don’t take time to consider that journey from the customer’s perspective.
Brands need to use available consumer data to construct a journey map that fits their audience’s needs and habits. Marketing leads the way in this customer experience mapping, but IT may play a role in data collection.
While the audience should be at the center of CX, company values also play a role. Everyone in the company, from board members to interns, is responsible for ensuring that company values are implemented on a day-to-day basis.
Technology Is Paramount
Technology is a major component of CX that deserves to be considered more carefully by CX strategists, who should bring IT to the table early in the strategy development process. Taking a technology-based approach to CX not only can enhance a brand’s CX strategy, but also position a company as a leader in the digital marketplace.
CX aspects like website design, easy-to-use payment options, and delivery and return logistics all have a tremendous impact on overall customer experience and quality customer service. This is why it’s so important for brands to partner with the right e-commerce system provider to leverage technology in the most effective way possible.
Every piece of the customer journey impacts the overall experience, and it’s up to all company leaders and business segments to develop a CX that ensures profitable customer relationships.
Online merchants have a chance to communicate the value of subscriptions to consumers via the technologies they integrate into their brands. With support from these solutions, they’ll be able to give consumers the experiences they desire and cultivate strong connections in return.
These shopping journeys have lasting impacts on consumers and are an avenue for merchants to build long-lasting relationships with their buyers. By showing an understanding of the customers’ needs and taking measures to support them, shoppers often will commit right back to the brand. They’ll not only become returning customers, but also will take to social media to share great experiences and favorable opinions, which could help bring new customers to the fold.